Small Gods: A nice message and some smartypants good fun

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Terry Pratchett Discworld Small GodsSmall Gods by Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods (1992) was the first DISCWORLD book I read, and it made me love the series. I reread it recently, and, allowing for certain themes that repeat in all the DISCWORLD books, I found I still enjoyed it. Pratchett delivers a message on the nature of hypocrisy, fanaticism and faith, with lots of smartypants good fun along the way.

Brutha is a novice at the Temple of the Great God Om. While Brutha is a hard worker and a well-meaning lad, he neither reads nor writes and he’s kind of a simple soul. Only two things make Brutha different; an amazing memory, and an unalloyed, bright-burning belief in the Great God Om. These two things will make him the most important person in Discworld… at least to Om.

The Great God Om is usually depicted as a huge bull, so when Brutha finds him in the temple garden the form of a tortoise, he is confused. So is Om. Om is more concerned to discover that he has been a tortoise for three years. Om has been a god for quite a while, and he understands what is happening. Gods who lack true believers begin to shrink until they are nothing more than faint voices on the desert breeze. At a time that the Temple of Om is expanding and more people are being, um, let’s say “encouraged” to worship there, Om himself is shrinking.

Brutha has his own problems though. He has come to the attention of Vorbis, the Omnian inquisitor (or “exquisitor” as they call it). Vorbis has unshakeable plans for the greater glory of Om, and they include invading a nearby city-state. To round out the problems and complications, there is a rebel movement within the temple and the city. Omnians believe that the world is a sphere of rock, whirling in space with other rock spheres around a ball of flaming gas. A heresy has sprung up: the world is, in fact, flat, carried on the backs of elephants, who stand on the shell of a turtle. Vorbis plans to exterminate this belief, as well as anyone who cannot pass his own “purity” tests.

Small Gods does not take place in Ankh-Morpork, but surprisingly it still has a Cockney food vendor and some other character types who are very familiar. The city-state Vorbis plans to conquer is a faux-Greek city of philosophers, and Pratchett makes that as funny as you would expect. The book contains a religious war, so of course Death is on hand, along with the Death of Rats, and several gods make appearances. Other than Om, who learns a lot on his journey with Brutha, the gods do not acquit themselves well here, and that is part of the fun. Since an eagle dropped the tortoise into the garden in the first place, eagles play an important role in the book too.

Ultimately, though, this is the story of a boy and his god. Om learns, and, learning, becomes a greater god than he had been. Brutha gains confidence, and grows from a good boy to a good man. Vorbis is an urbane, practical, chilling villain, and the most chilling moment is when Om, who can see minds, describes Vorbis’s as a smooth ball, perfectly round, that nothing can get into.

Re-reading Small Gods, I could see that it’s a bit too long, with a few too many set-pieces and, possibly, one too many subplots. It still resonated. In a world filled with religious extremism, it provides a model of faith without being preachy. It’s sweet. It’s funny. And I’ll never look at an eagle in flight in quite the same way.

~Marion Deeds


fantasy book review Terry Pratchett Discworld Small GodsTerry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD series has been incredibly popular for many decades, starting from The Colour of Magic in 1983 all the way to installment #41 The Shepherd’s Crown, published posthumously in 2015. According to Wikipedia, he has sold over 80 million copies in 37 languages over that span, so I hardly need to bring it to the attention of other readers. Rather, I’m a bit embarrassed that I am so incredibly late to the party. I actually remember getting the first few books in the series in paperback in high school and really liking the incredibly busy and distinctive artwork of Josh Kirby on the cover of The Light Fantastic, and yet I never got around to reading it once I got to college.

So over 20 years later, having just moved to London this year, and needing something fun to read after going through herniated disc surgery, I decided it was time to give it a try. Having done some checks of reviews, I knew that #13, Small Gods, was a stand-alone that was not just fun and whimsical, but actually was also a very intelligent examination of personal faith, fanaticism, and the dogmatism of religious institutions that have taken the place of real faith, to the point that the gods themselves dwindle to just a whisper on the breeze for lack of true believers. Most of the extensive series in audiobook is narrated by Nigel Planer, whose dry British delivery is ideally suited to the material.

Small Gods is probably one of the most thoughtful examinations of what real belief is and the co-dependent nature of humans and gods. While it seems that humans invariably need gods to believe, according to Pratchett gods are equally dependent on human believers for survival, and their strength waxes and wanes depending on the number and fervor of their believers. To my mind, this explains the multitude of current and defunct religions of our world throughout human history far better than any of those religions themselves do, as I don’t think they cannot adequately explain how the world got by before their religion and prophets arose. The reader may well have a different opinion, but the book does a good job of raising the question without using a bludgeon.

So with tongue firmly in cheek and almost every other line rich with British humor and irony, Pratchett tells the story of the Great God Om, who finds himself a tortoise falling from the sky after being snatched up by an eagle, and landing in the courtyard of a temple devoted to him. He finds himself in the care of the simple-minded novice Brutha, who as it turns out is the only person in the sprawling organization who actually believes in him. Brutha then gets swept up in a series of adventures with Vorbis the Exquisitor, a ruthless and power-hungry man who has complete belief in the rightness of his own actions and who revels in torturing and “cleansing” non-believers.

The various discussions of Brutha and Vorbis as they travel different lands and get entangled in a rebellion and religious war are the means by which Pratchett can pose a series of very simple but profound discussions on what religious faith is, and how it differs from a fanatical observance of forms and structures, and how gods can dwindle to nothing just as their religious institutions grow to the heights of power. It’s a lot of food for thought, but extremely entertaining throughout, which is quite an accomplishment. Brutha is such an innocent and pious man that it doesn’t even occur to him to question his church strictures until he sees Vorbis in action, and of course his many discussions with the hilariously snappish and ill-tempered god Om, who is not at all happy to be trapped in a tortoise body, fighting off thoughts of lettuce and melons.

All told, Small Gods is a great entry point to the series, and now I have to figure out which books in the series to tackle next, either those focused on Rincewind, the witches, Death, the city watch, or the wizards. Lots to choose from, but I guess the simplest thing is to start at the beginning.

~Stuart Starosta

Published in 1992. Lost in the chill deeps of space between the galaxies, it sails on forever, a flat, circular world carried on the back of a giant turtle — Discworld. —a land where the unexpected can be expected. Where the strangest things happen to the nicest people. Like Brutha, a simple lad who only wants to tend his melon patch. Until one day he hears the voice of a god calling his name. A small god, to be sure. But bossy as Hell.

Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.

Terry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. Ericbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Moving PicturesReaper Manbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Witches Abroadbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Small Godsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Men at Armsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Soul Musicfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Maskeradebook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Feet of Claybook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Hog FatherJingobook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Last Continentbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Carpe Jugulumbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Carpe Jugulum, The Fifth Elephantbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Truthbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Thief of Timebook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Last Herofantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Thud!book review Terry Pratchett Discworld Making MoneyTerry Pratchett Unseen Academicals DiscworldTerry Pratchett Unseen Academicals Discworld, Snufffantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Discworld for Kids:

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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